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I often see writers use "said" instead of "asked" when their character asks a question.

e.g. From The Hobbit:

“Where else should I be?” said the wizard

Is it a mistake that hasn't been caught by the editor, or is it acceptable to ask a question with "said"?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's stylistic. You can use either. "Said" isn't wrong.

Some writers feel very strongly about "bookisms," which is using words instead of "said" which tend to be more elaborate and give some action to speaking. (hissed, crooned, muttered, sighed, barked, laughed, snarled, grumbled) Personally I'm fine with them if they are used appropriately and judiciously, but your mileage may vary.

"Asked" isn't really a bookism, but it is a touch redundant (you pretty much only ask a question).

(Plus look, we're talking Tolkien, and linguistics professors can do whatever the hell they like with languages.)

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In this case he wasn't expecting an answer. Gandalf, that is.

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3  
You're answering the example, not the question. But... this is technically correct. –  Neil Fein Jan 6 at 4:21
    
The other answers have merit, although they rub my sense of proper wrong, I only mismatch like that when I want to draw attention. –  hildred Jan 6 at 4:25
    
I think this IS answering the question, at least partially. When someone asks a rhetorical question, they're not really asking. They are saying. "Can I kiss you?" asked Susie. "Is the Pope Catholic?" said John. –  dmm Jan 8 at 20:56
    
You may have answered the example, but it illustrate very well the fact that the choice of words always adds meaning to the sentence, it always nuances the text. However, making the nuances too obvious may be a style error: some must be left to the reader's interpretation as he co-creates the story. –  babou Jan 10 at 11:13

Because it's less intrusive.

Anything you speak is something you say; "asking" is merely a more specific description of how the thing is being said.

Some writing wisdom holds that using "said" is lazy/boring, but always using specific descriptors like "asked" when the questioning tone is obvious from context can be equally disruptive to the flow of reading. "Said" doesn't call attention to itself like "asked" does, and lets the reader continue the conversation with minimal interruption. Overuse of more descriptive verbs may lead to Tom Swifties.

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